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Debating the Iraq War

Most Americans have an opinion on the invasion of Iraq, and members of Bennet Middle School's Royal 7 team got a chance to air their views. Classes divided themselves into groups who agreed or disagreed with the war or were undecided, and the debate was on. Included: A format for a middle school debate.

For several years, people have been debating whether the invasion of Iraq was justified, and still opinions vary widely. Bennet Middle Schools Royal 7 team took up the question, with the added challenge of trying to persuade uncertain classmates to side with their views on the war.

Students spent about a week studying Iraqs history and culture and another week studying the life of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein before the debates. The topic fits in well with the curriculum, which is the geography of non-Western nations, said social studies teacher Gary Tracey. He likes to study one country in a region in depth, and the conflict in Iraq made it an easy and timely choice.

In the eighth period class two weeks earlier, students had reviewed a timeline of events in the region. That included the first Gulf War in 1990, which began when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the U.S. sent troops to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait.

Why didnt we just take their [the Iraqis'] oil then? asked one student, Tyrone.

That's not right and its stealing, a girl responded.

The oil also provides jobs and revenue for Iraq, Mr. Tracey noted.

But they could all grow up to be like Saddam, Tyrone continued.

What would the rest of the world think of the U.S. if we took Iraqs oil? Mr. Tracey asked.

They would turn against us, Maggie said. They wouldnt want to do business with us.

We should take their oil, Tyrone insisted. They bombed our trade center.

Why does President Bush think hes in charge of the whole world? someone else asked.

DEBATE PREPARATIONS

The day of the debate, the ground rules were on the board when students entered the classroom first period:

  • You must wait to be acknowledged before you speak.
  • You must stand to present your argument.
  • No speaking while the other team is presenting.
A sign on one side of the room said AGREE, another on the opposite side read DISAGREE, and a third in the center of the back wall said UNDECIDED, so students knew where to assemble when the time came.

A few students sat down and nervously re-read notes, firming up arguments.

Prior to the debate, Mr. Tracey passed out one of four different articles about the war from Time for Kids, and told students to keep the paper face down on their desks. When all the students had articles, he gave the okay, and students turned over the hand outs and spent five minutes reading their articles.

Mr. Tracey wrote the debate topic on the board:

The invasion of Iraq helped preserve peace in the world.

Students headed for the sign that reflected their opinion about the statement. As the debate prepared to start, the undecideds held a majority with ten students. Six students agreed that the invasion helped preserve peace and three disagreed.

The agrees and disagrees, besides debating each other, were trying to persuade members of the undecided majority to join them.

The undecided camp had the important task of filling out the debate rubric and scoring their classmates, while weighing the pro and con arguments.

AND IN THIS CORNER

Both sides were given two minutes to prepare opening arguments, and Mr. Tracey flipped a coin to decide who went first, and the toss went to the disagree contingent.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq has caused chaos around the world, a boy said in his opening statement. Its caused many U.S. deaths, and destroyed peace in the world rather than preserved it.

From the other side came the argument, Without troops in Iraq, there would be a 30 percent higher chance of terrorists entering the U.S.

There cant be peace without conflict, the student continued. The [soldiers] deaths helped prevent terrorists.

How would anyone know there would be a 30 percent increase in terrorism because nothing happened? was the counterpoint.

Even though some people lost their lives, this helped keep terrorists out of our country and helped prevent another terrorist attack like September 11.

There could have been more peaceful ways to get the leaders out of Iraq, another boy from the disagree team argued. Maybe with a peace treaty or something like that.

Do you think Saddam Hussein would sign a peace treaty with America? He killed a lot of his own people already, responded a girl on the agree side.

After the first round, two undecideds moved to the disagree camp.

ROUND TWO

Mr. Tracey reminded students to keep their arguments focused on the debate question.

The agrees continued to argue that the invasion was necessary for U.S. security. George W. Bush did what any other president would do, asserted one girl. He tried to protect his country.

Its the job of the U.N. to keep peace in the world, countered one of the new members of the disagree side. Not the U.S.

In order to keep the peace, we have to contain or take out people who could destroy peace.

When we started, we were supposed to look for weapons of mass destruction. But when we got there, we started killing people who had nothing to do with it.

If the U.N. inspectors didnt find anything, Saddam Hussein could have stayed, and we could have had World War III.

The U.N. already had gone to look for weapons and didnt find anything but plastic tubes.

The troops protected us from terrorism and protected other countries from attack.

When the morning announcements came on near the end of the debate, members of the agrees recited the Pledge of Allegiance with a little more fervor than the other students.

At the end of the debate, one of the undecideds joined the agrees, while the remaining eight sided with the disagrees.

(Next week: Second period students show their debating skills.)

Education World Goes Back to School

Education World news editor Ellen R. Delisio is spending several days a month this school year with the Royal 7's, a seventh grade team at Bennet Middle School, a grade 6 to 8 school in Manchester, Connecticut. She is observing and participating in students' learning, and talking with staff about their strategies and perspectives on improving student performance. She is a graduate of W. Tresper Clarke Junior-Senior High School in Westbury, N.Y.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World

Originally published 05/05/2005